How You Imprison Yourself

You may not realize it, but you have the key

If you’ve ever been to a circus or traveled somewhere exotic, you may have encountered elephants either doing tricks or taking tourists on rides through the forest. How are such enormous creatures trained? All around the world a tragic process is still being implemented by elephant handlers. They start by training the elephant when he is a baby and weighs only 200 pounds. At that stage, they shackle his legs to a twelve-foot length of chain and stake the chain into the ground. During this process, many other unspeakable events happen to the baby elephant. Yet the key thing the elephant learns is that while he may walk a few feet, his freedom is limited by the twelve-foot diameter circle to which his chain confines him. After a long while, when the elephant has grown to almost 30 times his size, the trainers remove the shackles. Though the elephant is now physically free, he never again, for the rest of his life, wanders beyond his twelve-foot circle. His mind, and his heart, have been forever imprisoned.

We too are bound by invisible chains. They come in the form of unexamined limiting beliefs and narratives that we have about ourselves. Stories like, ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘I don’t deserve to be radiantly happy’, ‘people like me aren’t successful’, or ‘men are…’, ‘women are…’, ‘life is hard’ are examples of narratives that lurk so close to us we may not recognize them. Like the baby elephant, our narrative was hammered into the ground during our childhood by our family, our church, and/or our teachers––sometimes unconsciously, sometimes deliberately. The stake and its chain ensured we did not wander outside the fray of our twelve feet.

But now we are grown adults and even though the direct childhood influences are no longer there––the stake is gone, the chain no more––we remain imprisoned by our narratives, wandering only within our twelve-foot circle even though in reality our freedom, happiness, and fulfillment are just beyond our imagined limits.

You may have up until now examined lots of old narratives and beliefs, and if you are a life-long learner and consciousness explorer, you’ll discover there is always more to deconstruct. How do you find them? Trace invisible threads of feelings such as frustration, resentment, anger, blame, or resignation. They will lead you to the chain and ultimately the stake to which it is attached.
Here are some great journal questions to assist you, should you wish to explore further:

  • Are you feeling frustration, resentment, anger, blame, resignation, or some other uncomfortable ‘burr under the blanket’ kind of sensation?
  • If so, to what story in your life is it attached?
  • What is the limiting narrative or belief that is within that story? This is your stake.
  • Who forged it and hammered it into the ground for you?
  • How did they do that? – be explicit.
  • What is the twelve-foot world it has imprisoned you inside? Describe fully.
  • What is beyond the twelve feet? Let your imagination free in describing this.
  • What are you attached to that keeps you confined to your stake and chain? What does it seem to give you?
  • What do you need to release yourself from the stake?
  • What small practical micro-action-step do you commit to doing over the next six months to release yourself from the stake and chain?

That last question is your key. If you commit to a small (the smaller the better) practical next step or practice, and then do the next small practical next step, you’ll find yourself walking beyond your twelve-foot fray and into a life you always wanted. It will require courage, tenacity, and honesty but a big beautiful world awaits you outside the circus tent.